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Format: Audio CD
CRI, the publishers of this disc, "Lesbian American Composers", describe it as a collection of music from composers who `just happen to be gay'. They might equally well have termed it `music from composers who just happen to be women', or, even, for that matter, `just happen to be American'! To my ears, at least, there is little about these compositions that celebrates anything of the composers' gender, sexuality or nationality. The collection presented here nevertheless comes across as something more than merely a marketing gimmick. CRI are to be praised for bringing works such as these to public notice.
The ten tracks on this disc are all comparatively recent compositions (or at least revisions) and come from the hands of (mostly) American women composers, who range in age from 28 to 72. As one might expect, the collection encompasses a wide range of musical styles and aesthetics, from "Raw Silk (a Rag) - a rather straightforward piano rag by "Nurit Tilles' - to Ruth Anderson's hilarious "SUM (State of the Union Message)" - a tape collage of snippets taken from old American TV commercials.
Also as might be expected, Pauline Oliveros provides the most politically challenging work. Her opening "Poem of Change" appears to be a fairly simple work for voice and sonic events but is, none the less, every bit as thought provoking and disturbing as only Oliveros can be. Annea Lockwood's setting of Joy Harjo's poem, "I Give You Back", for solo vocalist, comes a pretty close second, though. In contrast, "Barbie's Other Shoe", an improvisation by Lori Freedman on half clarinet and Marilyn Lerner on piano, has considerably less bite and acerbity than the title might suggest. Also disappointing is Linda Montano's "Portrait of Sappho", which for me quickly descends into a tedious enumeration of body parts.
Amongst the strongest "straight" works (if I can use such a term within the context of this disc), "I Want to Live" is a duet taken from Act II of Paula M. Kimper's opera, "Patience and Sarah". This work is based on a novel by Isabel Miller and is described by the composer as the first opera to present a hopeful and positive portrayal of lesbian life. Musically, it is a fine example of contemporary classical music theatre. Jennifer Higdon's "running the edgE" is a similar example of good, solid, contemporary classical music - a fast and furious duet for flutes, with piano accompaniment.
For me, however, the two most rewarding works on the disc are the tape pieces, "Wolf Chaser", by Eve Beglarian, and Madelyn Byrne's "Winter". "Wolf Chaser" is a powerful and entrancing mix of sonorities, derived from slowed-down recordings of a wolf-chaser, together with miscellaneous additional processed sound samples and a driving, yet lyrical, violin line. It is the longest work on the CD, unfolding in a leisurely but assured manner throughout its 14-minute duration. The sparse and cold electronic textures of "Winter", on the other hand, derive from computer-processed samples of the sounds of bowed crotales, mixed with vocal samples, drawn from Marlin Serner's rendition of a haiku by Basho, which forms the centre-piece to this enthralling work.
All in all, this is a fascinating survey of the current state of some much-neglected areas of contemporary music.